Green Legislation – Obama Administration

To date, the U.S. Congress has submitted zero green legislation to President Obama for his signature but he has not been idle on the environmental front.

Beginning with President John Adams, each U.S. president inherits the work of his or her predecessors, the legislation signed into law, proclamations made, executive orders issued, memorandums written, and the state of the union.

President Barack Obama - Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06
President Barack Obama – Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06

In 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States taking the helm of the country during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Although tackling environmental issues was probably on the new President’s mind, it was not his top priority and it was not even on the U.S. Congress’ to-do list

However, President Obama has made use of the legacy provided by former Presidents and Congresses and exercised his powers as the Chief Executive of the United States to address environmental issues and climate change.

We will look at a few examples in this post.

Protecting and Preserving Public Lands and Waters

The U.S. Congress may set aside land and water for protection and conservation for the good of the public and future generations and so may the President.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 includes a provision authorizing the President to protect and preserve landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest on federal land by declaring them national monuments. Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law, most Presidents, including Roosevelt, have exercised their authority to declare national monuments via presidential proclamation.

To date, President Obama has designated 16 national monuments including Rio Grande del Norte, San Juan Islands, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, San Gabriel Mountains, and Browns Canyon as well as Fort Monroe and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM - Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM – Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica

Greening the United States Federal Government

Although not specifically called out in the U.S. Constitution, every President including George Washington has utilized proclamations and executive orders to direct and influence the business of the U.S. government.

The federal government is the largest employer, landholder, and building occupier, and operates the largest land, air, and water vehicle fleet in the United States. This places the U.S. government in a unique position and provides federal agencies with an opportunity to lead by example and address climate change on a wide scale.

Apparently, President Obama believes this too. He has issued environmental and climate change related executive orders and memorandums throughout his presidency.

For instance, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance on October 5, 2009, directing all federal agencies to lead the country towards a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gases by greening their own operations.

This means increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, reducing fossil fuel use, conserving water, eliminating waste, recycling, purchasing environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; operating energy efficient vehicles and high-performance sustainable buildings.

For the first time ever, federal agencies are now required to track their greenhouse gas emissions, establish reduction targets, and report on their progress.

Greening the federal government means the White House too. Installing solar panels on the White House residence roof in 2013 set a good example.

National Dialogue on Climate Change

Other U.S. presidents have talked about climate change related topics like renewable energy or resilient infrastructure, but President Obama made climate change part of our national dialogue. It began with one sentence during his first inaugural address.

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009

Now, six years later, the President regularly discusses climate change alongside the economy, health care, education, social security, and foreign policy. Below is an excerpt from his State of the Union speech on January 20, 2015.

“Now, I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists, that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and at NOAA and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

And that’s why, over the past 6 years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.

In Beijing, we made a historic announcement: The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution. And China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

President Barack Obama, State of the Union Speech, January 20, 2015

Climate change is out in the open now.

With two years remaining in his final term, President Obama and Congress may yet come together and enact green legislation to protect the planet for our children and future generations. Regardless, I believe President Obama will continue to exercise his executive authority and will move the ball forward on climate change.

Related Posts

Resources

National Energy Action Month – October 2014

What does the Persian Gulf War have to do with National Energy Action Month? Plenty as it turns out.

Oil Well Fires in Kuwait 1991The first Persian Gulf War was in its 3rd month in 1990 when President George H. W. Bush issued the first presidential proclamation declaring October as Energy Awareness Month, now called National Energy Action Month.

National Energy Action Month – Presidential Proclamations

In 2012, while researching a post about National Energy Action Month, I became intrigued by presidential proclamations for national this, that, and the other thing month. Proclamations provide tiny windows into the issues and policies of the time, past and present.

This year, I thought it would be fun and interesting to trace National Energy Action Month’s 25-year history through presidential proclamations.

President George H. W. Bush Initiates Energy Awareness Month

1990

President George H. W. Bush initiated Energy Awareness Month by issuing a presidential proclamation on October 2, 1990.

“As current events in the Persian Gulf region have so forcefully reminded us, we must skillfully balance our determination to sustain economic growth; our need to use energy efficiently and to reduce this country’s dependence on oil; and our commitment to a safer, cleaner environment.”

1991

For 1991 Energy Awareness Month, President Bush again emphasized the need to use energy efficiently, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and develop domestic energy sources.

1992

The 1992 proclamation highlighted President Bush’s National Energy Strategy which called for development of new technologies for oil and gas exploration, nuclear power, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels.

President Bill Clinton Carries on the Tradition of Energy Awareness Month

1993

http://www.energystar.gov/President Bill Clinton carried on the tradition of Energy Awareness Month with his 1993 proclamation themed “New Energy Choices for a Changing World.” It highlighted “green” computers, energy efficient appliances, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new ENERGY STAR program.

1994

The 1994 Energy Awareness Month proclamation referenced President Clinton’s “The Greening of the White House” initiative and stated the necessity of conserving resources for future generations.

1995 

In his 1995 proclamation, President Clinton alluded to three decades of disruptions in global oil markets and connected the word sustainable with energy policy.

For the next 13 years, the remainder President Clinton’s presidency and all through President George W. Bush’s time in office, Energy Awareness Month went dark.

President Barack Obama Brings Back Energy Awareness Month

2009

In 2009, during his first year in office, President Barack Obama brought back Energy Awareness Month, this time as National Energy Awareness Month. His proclamation covered green jobs, policies to support clean energy, and introduced the term climate change.

2010

The 2010 proclamation referred to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, new auto fuel-economy standards, and the Executive Order directing federal agencies to cut energy use.

2011

President Obama switched things up with a new name in 2011, National Energy Action Month, but mostly rehashed what he had said in the previous year’s proclamation. This time, he called on Americans to take action by making cleaner energy choices.

2012

America's All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy ImageIn his 2012 National Energy Action Month proclamation, President Obama refers to his now famous all-of-the-above energy strategy. He also announced that his administration had opened up millions of acres for domestic oil and natural gas exploration.

2013

President Obama’s 2013 proclamation recounted U.S. accomplishments in oil exploration, renewable energy deployment, and new nuclear power plant construction. It acknowledged high gasoline prices, and stated the need to reduce oil imports and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

2014

Natural Gas Drilling Rig on Pennsylvania FarmlandFor 2014 National Energy Action Month, President Obama touts his all-of-the-above energy strategy, states the U.S. is now the number one producer of natural gas in the world, and mentions how the Better Buildings Challenge is promoting energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

Interestingly, although the presidential proclamations above span more than two decades and exhibit varying rhetoric, they share some common ground: energy security, domestic energy development, energy efficiency, and balancing these with the economy and environment. Over the years, new terms were introduced such as green, sustainable, clean energy, low-carbon, and climate change. All the proclamations call on Americans to work together to secure our energy future.

National Energy Action Month – Take Action

One of the things I like about national months is that they provide a time frame for us collectively focus on something specific and take action. A previous post, Energy Empowerment – October is National Energy Action Month, offers some practical and perhaps fun ideas on actions anyone can take for National Energy Acton Month.

Last year we combined National Energy Action Month with Halloween and tackled our household energy vampires.

Blue Water Drop with RipplesThis year, since we live in drought-stricken California, we are concentrating on the connection between energy and water. For instance, by reducing our hot water use we also reduce our natural gas (fossil fuel) use. We do this by taking fewer and shorter showers, doing only full loads of laundry, and washing dishes in the dishwasher instead of by hand.

Share what you are doing for National Energy Action Month.

Reader Note: click on a year link above (e.g. 1990) to read the presidential proclamation for that year.

Related Posts

 Resources

Tackle Energy Vampires and Stop Phantom Power

Halloween, a time of ghouls and ghosts, is an ideal occasion to stop energy vampires from stealing your electricity and money.

This October we decided to tackle the energy vampires around our home. The actions we completed were easy and low or no cost. Although appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, and garage door openers use standby power we did not include these items in our project.

A previous post Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power covered energy vampires (devices that suck electricity even when turned off), purposes of standby power and its environmental impact. This post chronicles our energy vampire project. Readers will learn how to identify energy vampires, decide which devices to deal with, and get ideas for possible solutions.

Identifying Possible Energy Vampires

We walked through our home and made a list. We checked it against the Energy Vampires and Phantom Loads – Standby Power post for items we might have missed, like our power tools in the garage.

Kill-A-Watt Meter with Extension CordI wanted to measure the standby power of our equipment and electronics so we could figure out how much electricity we would save after completing our endeavor. Fortunately, my lighting designer spouse had a Kill-A-Watt meter.

We walked around the house and garage with the Kill-A-Watt meter attached to an extension cord. We’d plug the extension cord into a wall outlet, set the meter to measure watts, then unplug a piece of equipment from the wall and plug it into the meter. I recorded how many standby watts each item drew, if any, when it was turned off.

Deciding Which Energy Vampires to Tackle

The next and possibly most difficult step is to figure out which items on the list to tackle. The low hanging fruit is devices with high standby power usage, unnecessary equipment, and things that are not used all the time. The balance between saving energy and convenience can be tricky. Since the full time occupants in our household are my spouse and I, we only had to consult ourselves.

We decided to deal with our home office equipment, entertainment center, and determine if we had any items that could be unplugged either temporarily or for good.

Solutions for Getting Rid of Energy Vampires

This is what we did.

Home Office Computer Area

We both work out of our home so perhaps have more equipment that some people. Our home is in area with not infrequent power outages so we both have UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units under our desks. In the event of a power outage they keep our equipment on long enough to save files and power down safely.

Smart Power Strip with Remote Switch - Computer AreaThe UPS units are our top standby power users but we decided we need to keep them on. I purchased a smart power strip to plug my equipment into which is then plugged into the UPS. The UPS protects the equipment when it is on and the power strip eliminates standby power when equipment is turned off. Our Ethernet switches are plugged into the always on outlets. I didn’t particularly want to crawl under my desk twice a day to turn the power strip on or off, or have it and all its cables on top of my desk. So I paid a few bucks extra for smart power strip with a remote switch I put on top of my desk. Cool.

Squid Power Strip - Printer AreaHome Office Printer Area

We have several pieces of equipment for printing, copying, and scanning we use less often than a few years ago. We decided the equipment did not need to be on standby all the time. A 5-prong power squid enabled us to plug in external power supplies of various shapes and sizes. It is plugged into a switched wall outlet which means the equipment can be turned on or off with the flip of a wall switch. Easy.

Entertainment Center

Double Plug with Switch - Entertainment CenterI am the TV watcher in our household. We have a TV, cable box, DVD player, and speakers. The cable box and speakers are the standby power hogs so I plugged them into a double outlet with a cord that has a switch on the end (this came from our junk drawer). It only takes about 2 to 2 ½ minutes for the cable box to warm up. I can wait.

Unplug

We don’t leave our cell phone chargers plugged in so didn’t need to worry about them. My cordless weed whacker is only used in the summer so I decided to leave the two chargers unplugged the other 9 months of the year. We eliminated a cordless phone and three alarm clocks. Simple.

Standby Power Reduction Results

Before – our standby power (for the items on our list) was 1,075 KWH, about 10% of the annual energy use of the typical American household (11,280 KWH 1). Electricity in our area is expensive. At $0.22 per KWH our standby power cost was $236.50, more than double the average of $100 estimated by the U.S. DOE 2.

After – we’ve reduced our standby power by almost 48% to about 512 KWH which will save $123.86 year after year.

We purchased two smart power strips for a total of $78.43 which makes our ROI (return on investment) less than one year. Even if we had purchased a Kill-A-Watt meter for $21.54, our ROI would still be less than a year.

It All Adds Up

If every household in the United States took action to reduce standby power (estimated at 100 billion KWHs annually 3), and we reduced it by say 25%, we would save 25,000,000,000 KWHs (yes that’s billions) of electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Unplugging chargers and a $5 power strip could go a long way.

Small actions can really add up.

Now you are armed with information about how to identify energy vampires and possible solutions, so it’s your turn. Share how you tackled your energy vampires in the comments section below. Good luck.

Related Posts:

References:

  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration – How much electricity does an American home use?
  2. U.S. DOE – 3 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Standby Power Loads
  3. ENERGY STAR – Celebrating 20 Years of ENERGY STAR, Product Retrospective: Standby Power

Resources: